Monthly Archives: April 2012

To My Evangelical Tradition: A Note in Parting, With Hopes of Return

I.
I have loved you and
dwelt within your walls. I
have sung praises
in your tongue and read
your recommendations.

We have gone and
witnessed, spent Summers
saving spent sinners,
convincing them into despair
and sorrow, but offering them
salvation through our
conceptual Christ.

I have come to your conferences, and I
have memorized your music. I have learned
your cant and taken your words seriously.
I have lost my youth to your urban ascetic,
rejected The Lost on their terms, that they
may meet me on our own.

II.
But I reject you, now,
and hold no grudge.
You are the sick.
You are the broken.
You are the lost.
You are in need of healing.

I don’t love your conditioned Jesus, and have
faced the consequences. The alienation
from His people
(they are not yours),
the rejection from
roles, the demands
to keep silent.

I reject you, who drown my
loved ones in your phony baptismal
of praxis and convention,
the blind submerging
the blind, your holy
ceremony of self-mutilation.

You, who dwell on bookshelves
marked “inspirational” and
“self-improvement,” who serve
my psyche in its Herculean
pursuit of the
sustained Godhead.

Who condition me to hate
my mind, offering a miasma
of fluff as my rock
and foundation.
 
III.
I pray that you may now be
as your proclaimed Christ.

That you may die
his vicious death.
Be buried.
Be silent.

That when I return to your tomb
I may find you
                      gone,
                                    transformed,
            risen,
                                                    restored.

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It Could All Probably Be Different. Probably.

The coffee shop’s empty and I’m peacefully reading
When a rusty spring screaks and I hear,
“DUDE, you SUCK!”
Four baseball players from the local high school,
arriving together, searching
for snacks and status.
Their dynamic is clear.
The tall one leads, fueled by the desperate flattery of his
Acne-punctuated sidekick, who would disown his family
For a few laughs. Then there’s the observant
One, who doesn’t belong here and will probably one day drift
Out of the group just as smoothly as he’s drifted in.
And tailing them all is this short, chubby kid,
The one who sucks,
a fan of these few who
just wants them as friends.

But he’s screwed from the start,
because he’s got the body of
a scapegoat, and so with each desperate joke and question
he adds his humble share of dirt to their
circle’s fiat of his rejection.
You know he knows this
because of how he recklessly rambles when
conversation gets awkward, and because of
how he wears his shirt at pools. He wears

the shirt that was made two years ago, by a
32 year old in some Indian factory. The man had just joined the
company and spent a lot of his time quietly humming to himself
and studying the pixels on his phone. All in attempt at
avoiding the ten-year factory veteran who’s promotion he pilfered, all in attempt
at avoiding the incompetent boss who’s dad was a founder, all in
attempt at avoiding the group of father’s who always eat lunch at
the same time and table,
who have not once invited him to
sit or have asked him any questions.
Lunch at the father’s table is always full
of stories, like the one told by

The newest member about how his son, Alex, was born just
last week in Lincoln Memorial Hospital. And everyone
was rejoicing and tearing
Up at the beauty of it all until the doctor said,
“He’s at risk here, we need to get him
To the nursery.”
So Alex was taken away from his parents and cousins,
And from his grandfather, who’d come up just for the occasion,
to the safety of the newborn nursery,
Where two of the babies had already hit it off, and
Were saying stuff to each other like
“Uhhhhhh,” and “Ohhhhh!”
And it looked really appealing to Alex,
Who was already trying to stifle this strange feeling of want,
so he played it cool, casually rolled over to face their adjacent cribs,
took a deep breath,
and mustered up the courage to flash
them both a big toothless smile.
But the response was hostile, met only with a gurgling of their spit
and teasing tears, perturbed by this overt expression of human need–

Loneliness.

The same loneliness that hits Alex’s grandfather as he resettles in
The nursing home’s stiff-backed chair,
sinking into its compositing
Cushion under the weight of
Weltschmerz and flesh, eyes
Greying in the room filled with
Teammates and coworkers past,
the room where physical deterioration
has finally made clear what has been
present all along. Where the ones
Who did right and the ones who did wrong
sit silently, basking in a silence that proclaims
“We have done our part.”
There is no bragging, no condescension,
no social acrobatics; there is only
the aged, enlightened quitters
who don’t want anyone to sit with them, because
they’ve done all that before,
and they know it doesn’t work.

A Poem Like A Cheerleader, Who’s Got Everything and Nothing

I am not a poet…..

And I’m not saying
That to be clever,
Like the man who says, “I am not a poet,
I am merely a secretary to the ever-resounding voice of nature
As it whispers rare truths into my ear.”
Or to criticize, like this student in my class who says stuff like, “Poetry blows.
It’s complicated for no reason and super pretentious.”
I’m not saying that.
I’m just saying that I’m bad with slant
And I suck with syllables,
Free verse muffles me,
And sonnets constrict.

I am not a poet.
Footnote:
What I really mean here is that I am not
A performance poet, a ‘slammin!’ poet, an
Articulate poet who can woo women,
And you, with sexily inflected rhymes.
Return to text.
I am young and naïve. My
Take on the world is immature.

I am a student you don’t know.
A student you had never heard of until now, and
Odds are will never hear from again.
I am a student who bathes in and with books, devouring D’Agata
and Barth, Wallace and Eggers.
I am a savvy student.
I am a historically anonymous student.
You do not know that I am from Philadelphia, though Canadian.
That I was afraid of being home alone until high school.
That I have never had a car accident.
I’m post-modern not because of the things I read or the way I write,
But because of how unbearably self-conscious I am in my attempt to be cool.
I check the mirror 5 times before I go out, and I edit 10 times for style.
I know this, you’re probably picking up on this, so let’s just get it out there.
I’m aware of myself,
And I can’t stop talking about it.
I.
Eye.
Aye!

I would like to be, but am not, a poet because
Poetry is incarcerated for identity theft and
I really just don’t want to get involved.
America,
Footnote:
And, of course, when I suggest that poetry is dying, I mean that the American reader is dying,
Which is a distinction I am hesitant to make considering America’s grotesque narcissism, our constant masturbation, that isolates all others and makes mention of their presence uncool and/or obsolete.
Return to text.
America overwhelms and relativizes, destroying
Distinctions and excommunicating categories. The artist is dead.
The mother is dead. The teacher is dead.
The lover is dead. The parent, employer,
Student, writer, friend, thinker, director
Dead.

There was no bang and there was no whimper,
There was just us in our Hunger Games of
entertainment and pleasure, until we suddenly found
ourselves lost on the muted Sea, drowning with
the Pirates of the Caribbean under the
thin smirk of our CGI’d Twilight.

I am not a poet, because I don’t know how to say.
I don’t know what to hear.
I can talk about America and meaning,
Youth and pretension, culture and significance,
But I, the artist-mother-teacher-
Lover-parent-employer-
Student-writer-friend
Thinker-director, the not-poet,
Just don’t know who can listen.
So, allow me to introduce you to the Capital-P Poem,
Whose home is silence. Let’s savor Him
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
Until we’re done.

For The Bleeding, Inside and Out

The suit says times are tight
As it sits at the Starbucks counter,
Picking crumbs of lemon pound cake
Off the loaned white plate. And the donation
Seems unlikely, since times are tight,
So up goes the priest, to his two thousand
Two Volvo, in search of alternate support.

Ek het niks om te gee. Maar as jy kan, asseblief sorg vir my broer.

Banned pulpit words forced through
holy lips, bitter by the degradation of society.
Turning into his sanctuary’s mega-mall lot,
He fumes on the stage, empty on this Saturday,
To be filled by distortion and delay the next morning,
Proclaiming health and wealth, in the prettily presented
Package of a saviour past, to the same suits, he knows,
That don’t have a dollar to spare.

Jy is in my geestelike familie? Dank God!

Sunday morning, he speaks to the droves,
Chummy calls to niceties and good intentions,
Relating to them for the sake of his message,
Whose meaning died with “Let’s try to relate.”
The wireless mic projects the hollow aphorisms
To the animated suits, which are excited by the revolution of it all,
The deterioration of God from the inside out. They hear
The voices of the Third World through podcasts and professional
Graphics, the evangelization of penance by pocket books.

Hoor ons stemme. Ons wil net jou ore.Wees ons verdedigers.Ons vriende.

And Namibia continues to bleed as the Afrikaan voices drift
Into beautiful and spacious skies, vacant of sympathy
Or support. The debilitating Sickness heard
By none by those who’ve responded to Apollo’s
Delphian call, gotten up,
And done.

We Build to Climax

The poem is read, after he bowed
Listeners, one of whom you are
The first I heard was “The Waking”
And in place of line breaks
The shore’s soft, shapeless waves
To shapeless youth, maturing in their bodies
Are dying, aging unto death
Do them part, the surgeon dismantles
“Atomic bombs!” screams Bono, fighting
Soldiers are at war, nation’s disintegrate
Molecules into sugary drinks, lemonade
Stands made my first buck
Spent on candy (not stolen)
Like Mark would when he was 14
Birds flying over carnivorous cities
Grow and throb, fueled by energy
And significance, building to the climactic
Silence amongst the crowd.

Robert’s Memoirs

I try to smile when I meet someone new. I believe that it’s good form.

In the past week, I, Robert, have met seven new people. Mary, Alice, Sarah, Nick, Ryan, Mark, Rob. This means I have smiled at least seven times. Each smile was genuine. I am happy to meet new people. For the first few weeks, they are usually exciting.

My wife’s name is Sarah. We have been married for 12 years. She is from Los Angeles and is a ball of energy. She works in retail, and is frequently complimented for her fashion. She lives for those compliments.

I have worked in construction for 15 years. (Here’s a story for you: Sarah and I met when I was renovating her home. She brought me and the boys lemonade everyday, and eventually started inviting just me to stay for dinner. We went on many dates and did not have sex until we are married in 1997. I am strong in my Christian faith.) I love my job, and frequently work unpaid overtime. I have had to go to the hospital four times for job related injuries; each time made me feel like a fallen angel, a laborer for the divine, a convict being nailed to my cross. My work is Holy because I want it to be. I breathe Holiness into existence.

For the first few years, my marriage was exciting. Then it got hard. I poured myself into being a good husband, determined to be nothing like my father. All in all, I’d say me efforts paid dividends. My wife and I have never separated, though on two distinct occasions we came pretty close. People look to us as examples. I enjoy breakfast twice a week with two young fathers who cling to my every word. It is a humbling ritual.

I worked hard in school and had many friends. At graduation, I was nominated Collegiate of the Year, and accepted it with a speech that had everyone in tears. I took pictures with each of my teachers afterwards, and have stayed in touch with all of them (except Dr. Margaret, who is dead. [I spoke at her funeral, and made everyone cry again]). I was scouted out by a large pharmaceutical company right after college, offered a six figure salary. I declined; we didn’t share the same moral vision.

Yesterday, I was hit by a car. I died.[1]

 
 
 
 
 
 
1Despite our pleas, Robert has refused to finish the recording of his memoirs. He was not hit by a car and is not dead; he is just a philosopher. We are told that in a conversation he had with his agent, he said, “Who cares about my life? Why should they? There’s more to be said in what’s left unsaid. The number one thing I want people to learn from me is that life is short and we need to hold it loosely. I can’t just say that. I need to show it. If those damn publishers don’t like it, they don’t have to publish. I don’t care how frustrated the reader is. That’s the problem with readers; they read for redemption. They want happy endings, a digestible Whole. But that’s not how life works. It is complicated, and frustrating, and rarely makes sense (unless you’re a fundamentalist, but then you’re just an ass). If the reader gets annoyed with my ending, then I’ve accomplished my goal. If I get piles of hate mail, I will frame every one. Tell them that!”  His agent told us that, and we decided to publish. We at Farrar, Straus and Giroux hope you understand what Robert is trying to do here, and that you are not too frustrated. (Ed.’s Note)

Let Freedom Ring

"The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission."- John F. Kennedy

 
DISCUSSED HERE: 18th amendment, Nancy Hicks, Salvation Army, homelessness, Anglicans, authority, the 1920’s, freedom, Bobby’s dad, unrequited love, Scarface, speakeasies, Susan B. Anthony, “My Country Tis’ Of Thee,” BAC, America, Freedom Fighters, birth, cops, wisdom, anniversaries, beatings, Torrio, alcohol.

Ennnn nowEym drunk azzz FUKKK, kid. U hannt speriensed reel shit yet. U too yung. Jus wateil yur oldur. Den yull c how fuggin ard life rully iz. [tipsy]

On January 16, 1920, the 18th amendment was enacted. There was, needless to say, outrage. Those affected, nearly everyone, felt that their rights had been infringed upon. Appeals to the founding fathers, the principles of liberty and limited government, were frequent. The question was begged: What makes the government think that they have the authority to rid a man of the pleasure liquor brings after a hard days work?

I’m not yet born.

Bobby’s dad: 62. Walking home; hit by car. Driver’s blowing .18.

After the enactment of the 18th amendment, the American populace experienced a reminder of how strongly motivated they were by principle. Freedom, equality, prosperity, keystones upon which the founding fathers molded the country, were shown to be always present, though at times latent, in the American spirit. Around this time, scholars of American History begin to characterize the country as breeding “consumers of liberty.” These ideological foundations tilled the soil for gentlemen like Al Capone (born Alphonse Gabriel Capone, January 17, 1899) to flourish, credited by the masses as an archetypal freedom fighter.

U wanna no wut she sed ta mee? She sed I. DUN. WANNA. BE. WID. YOU. NE. MORE. She sed U. DUN. LISEN……………….U DUN. fuckin THING. STRAIT.  I dun fuggin LISTEN?!?  I dun fuggin THING STRAIT?!? Fugu, I said. ahahahahaha. Fugu, cuz u dunno sheet bout ME! [drunk; emotional]

I’m born on December 16, 1992 to Cam and Nancy Hicks, members of the Salvation Army. I grow up around alcoholics, witnessing to them, offering hope. My family abstains; in joining the Army they took an oath to forgo it. I am too young to take the oath, but I will sign when I can. It’s a good thing to do.

Mark: Blond hair, cut that day. The 22nd. First high school party. Snuck out. Socializing. In. Unconscious by 1. Kids freak out. No one calls cops. No one wants trouble. Last words, muddled, 12:59.

As the battle against prohibition raged on, Al Capone and other rebels fueled the resistance by standardizing the development of speakeasies and brewing of moonshine. Temperance activists resisted these underground tactics by appeals to authority; of note was an undertaking to rewrite the Bible, removing all references to alcoholic beverages. All in all, these attempts were futile. The American people were not going to succumb to a law they found to be illegitimate. Rather, they continued to contribute to Capone’s empire, helping him establish himself as the greatest bootlegger of the 1920’s.

It’s Christmas 1998; I just finished playing a piano duet with my little brother and we’re sitting at a cafeteria table with a bunch of older guys. One of them’s talking about how racist the PoPo is, how they threw him in jail for the night for ‘public drunkenness,’ but he knows it was just because he’s homeless and black. The other guys let out some Mmhmmm’s and It-aint-right’s. I make eye contact with my brother and take a bite of mashed potatoes. They’re pretty dry.

I no I no. u tink i crazy. U tink I dunno wut um tawkin bout cuz u no mi mind aintzactly wurkin rite. Ill tell ya this; ur crazy. UR CRAZY. Ur crazy not to. U kan tell whos rully lived bi ow much they drink. No drinkin, no livin. U cannt fuggin stand up to da world lyyke I ave an not need to jus go home and drinnnnk. You think u strong cuzucanstandtoooofaceitwidoutusinane…..fug…….but you jus dunno what u missin. Wait til ur big n strong, lyykee me. Waidil ur lyykee me. [trashed; reflective]

I’m 16, and I’m on fire for the homeless, and I’m talking with one of them on a street in Philly. He’s telling me about how he got here; how he got involved in the party scene in high school, thought it was worth giving up everything for, and eventually did just that. He’s crying and I’m just sitting there, totally attentive but not really resonating. I think he knows this but just wants to talk, and I guess all I really want to do is listen, so we just keep going. He’s getting all grandfather on me, telling me what he’d do if he was my age, what he wished he’d done differently. He forgets the anniversary of his first marriage and all seven of his kids birthdays, but he remembers the first time he had alcohol. July 4, 1968. That must have been a big deal, I say. Yeah, he says. Yeah it was.

Through partnerships like those of Capone and Johnny Torrio, the resistance against prohibition grew to an overwhelming capacity. As I was preparing the outline for this book, I asked some students in my graduate class what they thought of Mr. Capone. The responses varied immensely, but I was particularly struck by one student’s insights: “Capone was really just one of many social liberators. Thank God for King. Thank Her for Gandhi and for Anthony. With the speakeasies, and the sit-ins, and the protests, and the speeches, and the lobbyists, and the fires, and the dogs, and the beatings, and the self-restraint, and the media, and all that is good, we’ve really made it for ourselves. We pay such a small price for freedom because of people like them.” Another added, “I’ll bet Capone and Torrio had a friend or two who died of alcohol poisoning, and I’ll bet they didn’t care.”

My grandfather, who abandoned my mother: Somewhere in his late 80’s. Blind in his right eye. Back in the day, Sargent in the Salvation Army. Never took the oath. Beat my mother, 12, while he sweat out the toxins. She cried a lot and he pulled her hair. Next day, no memory. Never has apologized; never known what he’s done. Ignorance is bliss.

I’m 17 and I go to an Anglican church where they take communion and the Blood’s not Welchs. The sour taste penetrates my tongue, evoking sharp fears within me. My mother liked to talk about how one of her friends had never had alcohol in her life, but she tried it once—once—and found herself addicted. Moral: Best to just avoid it. But now I’m in church, and I haven’t avoided it, and I’m kneeling in a pew, supposed to be confessing my sins, and all I can think is “Oh my God, I’m gonna be an addict,” and I’m feeling a lot of animosity toward these Anglicans for putting me in this position.

I NO WUT IM DOOIN ISN GEWD BUT I DUN CARE. WHY SHOULDI? SHE DUN LUV ME N SHE NVR GUNNA. SHE DUN WANNN ME. OHHHH FUCKKKKKKKK SHE DONNNNN WANNNNNN MEEEEEEE. [wasted; revelatory]

It’s been two years since I was defiled by the Anglicans, and I guess I’ve changed a bit. I’m walking that fine line that my mother always talked about, and I’m pretty confident that, at least compared to other college students, I’m in really good shape. I intentionally expose myself to those PSA’s that warn against drinking, just to keep myself in check. For months at a time, I’ll abstain. My mother and I have a good relationship, and she knows about every sip. Surprisingly, she’s not too worried; she knows I learn through experimentation and that I have a good head on my shoulders. I’m not worried either—what’s adolescence but a time to learn and grow? To molt some authority and think for yourself?

“My country, ‘tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring!”
                   –A.C., before he’s Scarface, humming along with the radio while he
                    sweeps the stray hairs off the floor of his mother’s barbershop.
 
[out cold]